"It's not going to be a meal, just a few small plates from the Chef," the email stated.
It was from John Squair, omnipresent sales rep for Sandbanks Winery. I'd bumped into him a few times earlier this year, at Bon Appetit and Taste in the Glebe. He and winemaker Catherine Langlois had invited a handful of Ottawa's wine and food bloggers for a pre-release tasting of their wines at Absinthe Cafe.
Small plates indeed. The plates may have been small, but the contents made for a feast. So much for eating light.
The privileged few of us (Jodi from Simply Fresh; Claire from Foodie Prints and Ryan from Apartment 613) joined John and Catherine around a square table in the centre of Absinthe's funky, dimly-lit-by-candles space in Hintonburg. Chef Patrick Garland was at the helm as the feast began.
2011 Sauvignon Blanc - A tempermental grape, sauvignon blanc doesn't manage well in the County's short growing season. So Catherine has her fruit brought in from a friend's Niagara Escarpment vineyard when the conditions are just right for a rare bottling under the Sandbanks label. The acidity in this is restrained, letting sweet notes of lemon shine through. Chef's toothsome tortellini stuffed with halibut mousse, basil and preserved lemon, and topped with fresh peas, pea shoots and asparagus, married well with this sipper.
2011 Gewurztraminer - A long-lasting essence of orange blossom and linen is carried through the mid-weight mouthfeel and viscous finish. We were spoiled with a plate-licking-good seared scallop topped with foie gras and standing in a pool of herbed gewurz beurre blanc.
2009 Baco Noir Reserve and 2009 Baco Noir Classic - The reserve had an 'old spirit' feel to it; smoky aromas of tobacco leaf and cherries, over a firm, tannic backbone. The classic was more of a fun-loving burger wine, with a nose of fondant icing and campfire smoke, followed by big fruit on the palate. Different yeasts were used for each, and the reserve had a much lower yield. But both matched well with the drippy, medium-rare hangar burger, garnished with sharp cheddar on a duck-fat toasted brioche. Cardiac crisis and protein coma, all at once? BRING IT.
2010 French Kiss Cabernet Merlot - The rabbit in John's hat that everyone was waiting for. A Bordeaux blend of franc, sauv and merlot, it was velvet all the way through. Brooding and deep, with plump fruit and a double-punch of robust tannins and acidity. With it came a variation on a classic French dish: leg of lamb stuffed with lamb tenderloin and accompanied by a tempura-battered anchovy.
2011 Winter Harvest - "I'll have a single plum floating in perfume in a man's hat." Ok, so it wasn't quite like that, but close. Vidal picked in late November imparts a vastly different set of characteristics than when it's picked in the dead of night in mid-January. (That, and Langlois refuses to be picking grapes then. John babysits the grapes while she travels to warmer climes. Smart woman.) This dessert wine was clean and crisp, with a tangy apple and floral perfume. It was the winning match over the Gewurz for Chef's compressed and caramelized mango topped with lychee sorbet, which satisfied the sweet tooth while simultaneously cleansing the palate.
Sadly, none of the new releases will be available at the LCBO, but ordering online is a piece of cake (Hey! They've got PayPal!) Or you could plan for a weekend in the County with a stop at Sandbanks on your itinerary. John will be there - he'll take good care of you. And don't be shy to ask him for a little French kiss.
|Caramelized mango with lychee sorbet and verbena garnish